Biodiversity as a strategic priority for commissioning and use of evidence
In the second of a series of articles for SD Scene, Professor Robert Watson, Chief Scientific Advisor for Defra, explains why biodiversity is a strategic priority for the commissioning and use of evidence. Addressing the loss of biodiversity means getting the economics right, which poses a number of scientific challenges.
Biodiversity, ecosystems and their services are critically important to human well-being and the economy. Changes in ecosystems and their services can have both positive and negative effects on human well-being.
Globally and nationally the emphasis has been placed on provisioning services to meet the increased need for food, fibre, water and energy, for increasing and wealthier populations. This has resulted in the unintended degradation of many ecosystems and their regulating (e.g., nutrient cycling), supporting (e.g., soil quality, and control of pest and diseases) and cultural services (e.g., recreation).
The direct drivers of ecosystem change include:
- conversion of natural habitats;
- exploitation of natural resources;
- invasive species;
- air and water pollution;
- climate change.
These are driven by an increasing population, economic growth and trade liberalization, increased mechanization and use of agro-chemicals, socio-political and behavioural changes, all influencing the demand for goods and services and the way we manage our natural resources.
Unfortunately, the values of most ecosystem services are currently omitted from economic frameworks and decision-making. Failure to include non-market values in decision-making results in a less than optimum resource allocation.
Addressing the loss of biodiversity will require getting the economics right by making sure the value of all ecosystem services, not just those bought and sold in the market, are taken into account when making decisions; removing subsidies to agriculture, fisheries, and energy; making payments to landowners in return for managing their lands in ways that protect and enhance ecosystem services; appropriate pricing policies for natural resources, e.g., water; applying fees, taxes, levees and tariffs to discourage activities that degrade biodiversity and ecosystem services; and establishing market mechanisms to reduce nutrient releases and carbon emissions in the most cost-effective way
Key scientific challenges include understanding the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem services; assessing the response of habitats to the indirect and direct drivers of change; linking changes in habitat condition to ecosystem services and then to human well-being; assessing changes in ecosystem services to value (economic and social); assessing how to get the economics right, e.g., elimination of subsidies and payment for ecosystem services; assessing how to appropriate the true economic value (market and non-market) of an ecosystem services to the local land owner; and evaluating the policy levers for different decision-makers – what is endogenous to a decision-maker and what is exogenous.
In a previously published article Professor Watson considered climate change as a strategic priority; his third article will look at food security. His paper on the three linked priorities is available to download: Strategic priorities for commissioning and use of evidence (pdf).
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